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Training Tip: The image is everythingTraining Tip: The image is everything

You’re getting ready for that first solo cross-country flight—a major milestone on the way to earning your private pilot certificate. Planning the trip has been a good exercise in applying theoretical knowledge to the real-world task of selecting a route, making decisions about altitudes, examining airspace through which you’ll fly, noting radio frequencies, and researching facts about the destination airport.

Pilots should refer to their flight planning research frequently to create a strong mental image of the flight before the day of departure. Photo by Mike Fizer.

Don’t gather up all this important material only to look at it again the morning of departure, when you’ll get the preflight weather and put finishing touches on your navigation log. The product of your research is a trove of valuable information that you can absorb in advance about the cross-country—giving you a mental picture of the flight’s several phases.

To encourage this study habit, some flight instructors are known to spring an informal no-look verbal quiz on students preparing for a solo cross-country.

Consider altitude safety. Beyond determining what altitudes would comply with the hemispheric rule and keep you separated from terrain, where and how high is the highest terrain elevation near your route? Where would you find that information, and how close will your flight come to the hazard’s location?

Now formulate a visual image: You’re halfway along your route when you need to divert to the nearest airport. Roughly how many miles distant will that airport be, and in what general direction? What would be your best means of navigation? Is the diversion airport towered or nontowered? Can you recite some basic facts about that airport without consulting a chart or a reference publication?

Airports can make excellent visual checkpoints. Do you make it a point to spot airports you pass when flying your course, as a safety precaution?

Not all checkpoints are as good as they seem on paper. One of your checkpoints is a long lake aligned north-to-south, but now you aren’t sure the lake you see is the lake you want. How might you use a VOR radial to confirm?

Are there points along the route where communications might be spotty? What frequencies would be wise to have dialed in before transiting the area?

Perfect answers aren’t mandatory on a quiz like this. Your responses should demonstrate that the information you rounded up for the flight has given you not just a collection of random aeronautical facts, but a strong mental and visual image of your mission.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Flight Training, Student, Aeronautical Decision Making
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